Michelle O’Brien writes:

Pop fans have got themselves an annual festival on Blackheath starting in 2012 and Blackheath Society has got itself a hefty legal costs bill totalling £79,800 after its mammoth bid to stop the planned event was thrown out by court order.

“We are obviously pleased,” said a delighted NIMBY Events Ltd. director Tom Wates after Bromley Magistrates on Friday (July 22) ruled against the Society following the country’s reported longest ever running appeal hearing under licensing procedure. The appeal hearings started March 3.

“We are looking forward to the two-day OnBlackheath festival going ahead in September next year,” Mr. Wates said. “We have no hard feelings about Blackheath Society. We will continue to work with them and other community groups.”

The Society’s Chairman, Mr. Howard Shields, told reporters after the court ruling was announced: “Obviously we are disappointed – and surprised – at the Magistrates’ decision.”

Asked about reports that younger people living in the area mostly support the planned festival and see the Society as speaking only for Blackheath’s older and wealthier residents, Mr. Shields said: “We do agree that we must try harder to get our message over. We have got a communications challenge.”

The Society’s appeal was against a ruling by Lewisham Council’s licensing sub-committee giving the go-ahead for NIMBY to stage the OnBlackheath festival starting this year and continuing in perpetuity, with sale of alcohol.

But Mr. Wates and his co-directors had to cancel this year’s festival plans because of the time the overall appeal hearing has taken. The organisers aim to attract audiences of 25,000 on each of the festival’s two days, charging £45 per ticket per day.

The ruling by the two Magistrates (Mr. Roger Mills and Dr. Patrick Davies)hearing the appeal was scathing about Lewisham Council’s failure to publicise widely enough the original application to stage OnBlackheath.

“It should be the goal of any local authority to conduct its affairs in an open and transparent manner,” the ruling said. “In the weeks leading up to the original hearing by … Lewisham’s licensing sub-committee, in October 2010, there seems little evidence of this.

“This is evidenced by the large number of local residents (from both Greenwich and Lewisham) who were totally unaware of the (NIMBY) application until it was too late to make representations.

“The scale of the proposed event, coupled with the possible impact on the local community, both negative and positive, should, in our view, have caused Lewisham to widely publicise the application.”

The Magistrates’ ruling was equally scathing over the Council’s failure to notify Greenwich Council of the festival application.

“No formal notification was given to the London Borough of Greenwich. This we find astonishing, because a major event, attracting up to 50,000 people over two days, was being planned on a site just meters away from the mutual boundary of Greenwich and Lewisham.

“The chairman of … Greenwich’s licensing committee and their officers only became aware of the proceedings at a late stage. They too were denied the opportunity to make representations…

“In short, we feel that Lewisham, through its Licensing sub-committee, has not acted in an appropriate manner and has not had the interests of some of its residents at heart.”

But the Magistrates said that despite their criticisms of Lewisham Council “we do not find that the decision of the licensing sub-committee was wrong and in fact we consider that it was correct and therefore the (Society’s) appeal is dismissed.”

The Magistrates said although it would be impossible to eliminate all noise from the festival to surrounding areas they were confident it could be managed so as not to undermine the licensing objectives.

The resolution to launch the appeal was the unanimous but sole decision of the Society’s 13-member management committee. The committee did not
consult the Society’s membership comprising some 980 households before launching the legal appeal.

The Society, which bills itself “the Guardians of the Heath”, has asked its rank-and-file members to dig into their pockets and purses over and above the £15 average they pay in annual membership fees to help fund the cost of the appeal.

NIMBY’s barrister, Mr. Simon Taylor, told the court: “This appeal from day one had little or no merit.” He said it had achieved nothing from the point of view of Blackheath residents.

“There is not one single argument that the appellant has raised that you (the Magistrates) have not rejected,” he said. He accused the Society of intransigence and “of wasting everybody’s time and costs.”

He said the society was very well funded with assets of £400,000 while
Mr. Wates and his fellow NIMBY directors were “three family men who have had to dip into savings to fund this appeal.”

Mr. Taylor condemned the Society’s “foolishness” in doggedly ploughing on “regardless to the end” with its appeal instead of dropping it. “It’s my submission that the Blackheath Society from day one did not act logically in lodging this appeal,” he told the court.

Lewisham Council’s barrister, Mr. Edmund Walters, told the court: “It was not clear how many members of the Society were actually behind the appeal.” “On every legal point the Society has lost,” he added.

The Society’s barrister, Ms. Sarah LeFevre, agreed “the appeal was dismissed in every aspect” by the Magistrates. But she told the court: “It’s not fair to categorise this Society as a dog in the manger … We do say we had reasonable grounds for appeal.” Blackheath Society had done little to protract the proceedings, she said.

The appeal has occupied a total of seven days of hearings since the court proceedings started March 3. The appeal hearing was originally expected to last only two days. It has heard evidence from 16 witnesses called by the Society, two called by NIMBY and four called by Lewisham Cuncil

“Yes, it’s not a poor Society,” Ms. LeFevre told the court. But she said most of the registered charity’s £400,000 was in the form of property bequests.

Ordering costs against Blackheath Society, the Magistrates awarded £41,000 to NIMBY and £10,800 to Lewisham Council. With the Society’s own legal costs amounting to £28,000 this brings the total the Society has to pay in costs resulting from its appeal to £79,800.

“OUCH?” asked a reporter of Mr. John Hine, one of the Society’s management committee, who was in court.

“OUCH!” he agreed, adding: “We need younger members.”


Blackheath Society in a statement to its members after Friday’s court ruling acknowledged: “The total costs, including our own costs, that will have to be met (by the Society) is a very substantial sum, some £80,000.” It would be funded from Society reserves, the statement said.

NIMBY’s legal team had asked the Magistrates to order the Society to pay the full £140,000 costs incurred by NIMBY and Lewisham Council during the appeal. But the Magistrates declined to do this, saying the Society’s appeal had been “properly brought” and that Parliament had intended residents to have a say in the licensing process.

“This was reflected in their (the Magistrates’) order that the Society should pay less than 50% of the costs that NIMBY and Lewisham had claimed,” the Society’s statement said.


Filed under blackheath

33 responses to “Ouch…

  1. Thank you for publishing Michelle’s article Bugle, excellent reading.

  2. Also, am I understanding the figures correctly? Magistrates ordered total costs of £103,600?

    £41,000 (NIMBY)
    + £10,800 (LC)
    + £51,800 (BS) (£79,800 – £28,000 [society’s own legal costs] = £51,800)

    = £103,600

    Let me know, my boyfriend always says maths is my weakest point!

  3. Karma!

    I was appalled to see the BBC News item on this (24/7/11) stating that the Blackheath Society represented the view of local residents.

    They do not, they are simply a self appointed oligarch, who I as I far I understand are bank rolled by a local business man, rather than as many are led to believe, a group of little old ladies who are trying to protect their gentle way of life.

    I’m glad the festival is coming, I’m glad they lost, I’m glad it cost them a packet and I SPEAK AS A RESIDENT OF BLACKHEATH.

    Hopefully this is a sign to the Blackheath Society that you can’t bully people and claim you represent the people of Blackheath. You don’t!

    • Anonymous

      Whatever anyone may think about the BS , one thing is certain,
      they have struggled and fought for years and years to protect the Heath and the Village, and made sure that it did not degenerate into a tatty rundown area ,as many other parts of London are.

  4. Michele O'Brien

    @ Russ Hughes:
    “… they (Blackhath Society) are simply a self appointed oligarch, who I as I far I understand are bank rolled by a local business man…”

    ‘Oo is this man? I think we should be told. Does he have a white cat that he strokes on his knee and say things like ‘No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die’?

    • Hi Michelle,
      I’ve written to the BS requesting information and as yet have not received a reply. See below…

      “Dear Sirs
      I recently saw the article regarding the Festival taking place on Blackheath. Perhaps the BBC were mistaken in their article, but it stated that the Blackheath Society were representing the view of local residents.

      This statement is incorrect, I am a Blackheath resident, as are indeed many of my friends and colleagues, none of us agree or endorse most of your views and in particular this action.

      I see no information on your site regarding representation or governance, it does not show how The Blackheath Society ensure balanced representation of all local residents. How does one become a member of the Management Committee for example? Are you a registered charity, a not-for-profit or a business?

      If you could enlighten me as to the aforementioned then I would be most grateful.


      • ThePirateKing

        It’ll be interesting to see their reply.

      • In the absence of any forthcoming information regarding governance, impartiality and balance, I have in the meantime done some further research in terms of their legal entity and financial dealings.

        They declare themselves a registered charity, you can find their entry here at the Charities Commission http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithoutPartB.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=259843&SubsidiaryNumber=0

        2009 Accounts are here in PDF format http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends43/0000259843_AC_20090531_E_C.PDF

        The income from subscriptions calculates to around 750 households @£15 per sub.

        In her article Michelle wrote this ‘The resolution to launch the appeal was the unanimous but sole decision of the Society’s 13-member management committee. The committee did not
        consult the Society’s membership comprising some 980 households before launching the legal appeal.’

        I’m not sure where the 980 number comes from, as the maths don’t add up, perhaps exaggeration of importance on their part. I’m also concerned that the BS took this action without consultation of those who have given money to the group. Their annual income is around £40K, so on this basis they have just blown around 2 years of income and not all of that from subs.

        Were I to have been someone who was giving to this ‘charity’ I would expect some accountability from the group and a full explanation as to why they embarked upon this unilateral action – this alone speaks volumes about their consideration for the community of Blackheath.

        In real terms the BS is simply about aesthetics and preserving a way of life that appeals to a certain kind of person; not the community as a whole.

        Let’s see if I get a response to my questions about governance et al, if nothing else I can always write to the Charities Commission and request a copy of their constitution.

        In the meantime, I will continue to look very carefully at the group who claim to represent the good of Blackheath.

        Their name shortened is BS, ironic isn’t it!

  5. Benjamin

    Regarding Russ Hugh’s comment:

    “I’m not sure where the 980 number comes from, as the maths don’t add up, perhaps exaggeration of importance on their part.”

    You can become a lifetime member of the Blackheath Society I believe, which wouldn’t reflect in annual subscription membership. It’s really not hard to find this on their website – less time ranting, more time reading Mr Hugh!

    The committee stand for election, have AGMs and by all accounts don’t need to have a referendum on every issue, just like the management of any company, charity or political party doesn’t. If it did probably nothing would ever happen. Whilst it clearly doesn’t apply to all people, there are many who are against the on Blackheath festival. When I was at a Blackheath Assembly meeting a few months back, many spoke against the festival and not one spoke for it. The society will have been contacted by people that were concerned about the event in advance of launching the appeal. As local residents the 13 are also well within their rights to interpret that a large music festival would go against one of their core objectives which is “The care and protection of the Heath”

    There is an awful lot of hyperbole about the Blackheath Society on this website. They aren’t evil, perhaps they in general have a different idea of what Blackheath should be like than some others, but this doesn’t warrant the name calling.

    Were it only a temporary license for a one off event, I doubt On Blackheath would have met with the same level of opposition. It is after all an event, that may cordon off with 1.5 KM of fencing a big chunk of the heath for probably 4 days a year with 50000 people over the weekend. It is a big deal, whether you are for or against.

    • I agree with all of the above. I’m really not against the Blackheath Society (I’m a member), and I think you’d have difficulty finding a single post written by me that suggests otherwise (possibly with the exception of the library/Age Exchange issues). I have no doubt that one of the reasons that Blackheath is so picturesque is down to the Society’s work. But that doesn’t mean that their decisions can’t be discussed. To be honest, I’m utterly dismayed at the amount of comments anything mentioning the festival seems to receive.

    • It’s ‘Hughes’ NOT ‘Hugh’s’ –

      Furthermore the maths do take into account both annual and lifetime subs if you look through the accounts.

      So anyone who questions the motives of the BS and ask some basic questions about a charitable organisation is simply ranting? It’s always a slippery slope when those who ask simple questions about accountability are demonised.

      I don’t hate the BS, it simply makes me angry to be associated with a group who are probably well meaning, but in so many cases are misguided and to claim to speak on behalf of all Blackheath residents is frankly arrogance. Again, perhaps this financial bloody nose will give them a wake-up call and help them realise they may have been founded in 1937, but 75yrs on they may need to change their thinking a little, if they want to be here for the long-term.

      I also looked into the information and accounts of the BVRG, completely transparent and open and who seem to need our funds more than the BS, so my money is on them.

  6. Perhaps you would also like to edit the original comments that I responded to then, for fairness sake? Or add the line, so as you can see I have read the accounts and I am not just ranting.

  7. “To be honest, I’m utterly dismayed at the amount of comments anything mentioning the festival seems to receive.”

    Bugle: Why are you dismayed? :(

  8. “The committee stand for election, have AGMs and by all accounts don’t need to have a referendum on every issue, just like the management of any company, charity or political party doesn’t. If it did probably nothing would ever happen”.

    Hi Benjamin, I am a member of a choir that is registered as a charity and I could not imagine the committee making that kind of decision without consulting the whole choir. Especially when court costs were a possibility.

    • I agree with Lara and especially as they are now asking the members to put their hands in their pockets to underwrite their foolish action.

      All well written constitutions will have safeguards in place to prevent this kind of thing happening, just as in any organisation, commercial or otherwise, there will be trigger points where budgets will need to be signed off. They act as appropriate safeguards and prevent mismanagement. Any people in authority know it’s a benefit not a hindrance to exercise power with checks and balances on place.

      Clearly this action demonstrates what happens when it is not the case, which the article points out ‘The resolution to launch the appeal was the unanimous but sole decision of the Society’s 13-member management committee. The committee did not
      consult the Society’s membership comprising some 980 households before launching the legal appeal.’

  9. Mark

    As a Blackheath resident for 40+ years, I f ind this whole situation somewhat frustrating, the idea of running a festival on the Heath that promotes local business and talent surely can only be a good thing, The fact that it will run for two days in September will not really cause any isues for anyone. As a concerned resident and local businessman I took it upon myself to meet with the team involved (Nimby) and to be honest was blown away by their integrity, enthusiasm and knowledge, I urge anyone who has issues to email them with any questions/concerns they have and I’m sure they will be pleased with the response, lets move on and celebrate the opportunity..

  10. im a young resident of blackheath, not old enough to be a cantankerous old git and not quite young enough to be a street drinking lout, but i genuinely think this sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. and here is why:

    in an age of the mass consumption of culture, and especially music, it becomes a necessity to create space to disseminate culture (via the lowest common denominator). apparently this (in the last decade) requires the requisitioning of parks and public spaces to an extensive degree. my problem is that i fear that we are entering a point where any public space (because it is common or otherwise publicly owned) becomes the fair game of the council to lease out to the highest bidder, complete with commercialisation and gentrification (though this of course has no impact on council tax regardless of the revenue brought in).

    i really hope i have the wrong end of the stick and that NIMBY are hoping to specifically promote local talent from the surrounding boroughs whilst being sponsored by local businesses but im sure that it will just be an enormous exercise in branding and generic pop culture…

    but who am i to judge? [answer: no one]

    • i redact my comment about gentrification. i have no idea why i used that term in this context

    • Jon lee

      Let’s wait and see shall we? Not all rock/pop festivals are ‘ lowest common denominator’ type stuff. On Sunday I went to the All Tomorrows Parties gig at Alexandra Palace and watched a load of very good ‘alternative’ left-field acts. While I doubt the NIMBY thing will be that good there should be room on the bill for at least a couple of interesting bands over the weekend and if the Meantime Brewery have any sense they will get involved with some sponsorship.

  11. Why I am so in favour of this idea is this.

    Right now the usage of the Heath (not withstanding the Marathon and Cancer Fun Run) is mainly;
    * Endless fairs of varying types that on-the-whole attract the kind of loutish types that the BS is so concerned about.
    * The summer £1 and piss-up brigade who think the Heath is a giant skip and my guess come from outside of

    Contrary to the view of some, Blackheath is not a village full of the church-going, over-fifty, conservative, middle-class, but a vibrant family friendly place.

    Neither of which are really family friendly. The experience of communities like Ealing etc. is that an event such as the proposed music festival is ideal for families, biological or otherwise.

    I love living in Blackheath and fiercely proud of our village; this event IMHO would only go to reinforce what a great place it is for families to live in.

  12. I did say I had written to the BS Committee (sorry can’t resist a cheap gag!)

    They have replied and I think it only fair and reasonable that I copy it here in it’s full unadulterated form. This reply clearly shows they are not evil, simply misguided at times, perhaps I will take up their kind offer?

    “Dear Mr Hughes,
    Thank you for your email. We are happy to respond to your query.

    The Blackheath Society is a registered charity that has existed for 74 years
    primarily to “preserve and enhance” Blackheath. It currently has a
    membership of some 880 households. We have a long and worthy track record of representing the views of our members, a significant section of Blackheath society, on a very wide range of local issues.

    We identify and respond to members concerns in a variety of ways. In the
    case of this particular major topic, we emailed our members in September
    2010, when we were first alerted to the licence application, and when it was
    apparent that it was not being handled properly by Lewisham. We had an
    overwhelming response from our members – all negative, none positive.
    Events since then – the mailshot we did to local residents, the two public
    meetings at which the event was discussed, the unanimous support of the nine local Lewisham and Greenwich councillors, and of the Greenwich and Westcombe Societies – only served to increase our confidence in our assessment, notwithstanding the few emails we had voicing support for an event of some sort. The issue was also discussed extensively in our well attended AGM in June.

    We are not claiming that there is no support for the event – especially from
    people further afield – but there was/is a huge level of concern that needed

    As to our governance, we have a committee of currently 12 members. The
    Sociey’s rules were recently changed to limit the terms and promote rotation of the chair and committee members, who are elected at our AGM, usually in June.

    We would be happy to send you more information about the society if you wish – and even happier if you would consider becoming a member!

    Yours truly,
    The Blackheath Society”

    • Yes I think you probably should. I’m a member. If all the people on here spent as much time at their meetings as they do criticising the society, it might make for an even better Blackheath! I think they’re far from evil. I do wish they could have poured their efforts and money into saving the existing library rather than chasing away the music festival – not because I’m in favour of the festival, but because I thing libraries are critically important for local communities.

      • My latest reply to them…

        Dear BS
        Thank you for taking the time to reply to me in such a thorough and thoughtful way, I appreciate it.

        I do have a question as your reply wasn’t entirely clear, and being a marketing man I do tend to smell spin all too easily.

        You said that you had an ‘overwhelming’ response to the action, could you kindly tell me;
        1. How many emails were sent out?
        2. How many responded?
        3. How many of those were in support of your action?
        4. How many were aware of the cost of such an action and appeal?

        As you can appreciate a question of consent is only really valid if people know the consequences associated with their choice. If the question was simply ‘we think that the Festival consent is a bad idea, do you think we should do something about it?’ Then I think the answer is a no-brainer. Asking them ‘are you prepared for the possibility of it costing the Society £80,000 by taking this course of action’ then you will get a different answer.

        If I may say, your lawyer needs shooting. For them to advise you to take this case was madness. It was either a cynical ‘they win or lose I still get paid’, or complete incompetence, either way not good advice. A painful lesson!

        Secondly, I do not have issues with the Blackheath Society as a concept, I think your biggest issue is perhaps some decent PR. To a lot of Blackheath residents you are simply out-of-touch with the man-in-the street. Perhaps unfair, but perception is reality to those who believe it.

        I look forward to receiving you reply.

        Best wishes

  13. JOhn

    Does anyone know if the Blackheath Society was responsible for kicking up a fuss with the Council so that Starbucks has only a few tables (the downstairs is not used at all)?

    • Benjamin

      Certain shops have different zoning (I can’t think of the correct term off the top of my head). Some are retail only, some can be cafes/restaurants pubs etc.

      It’s a council thing, rather than a Blackheath Society thing, although Blackheath society, BVRG etc may or may not have pointed it out to the council as the licensing department will grant food and drink licences, even if the councils own planning doesn’t allow for it. Apparently Licensing can’t take into account planning (or something silly like that) so a drinks licence can be granted even if there is not appropriate planning.

      Mo mo Franks is another example of a restaurant that opened somewhere a shop should have been – ignoring the zone requirements.

      I quite liked mo mo Franks so was sad to see it close, however I think it’s a good thing that all shops in Blackheath can’t just turn into a cafe, I like to actually buy a bottle of milk or some clothes from time to time.

  14. Gill

    John — this was a few years back, but I seem to remember a fuss about Starbucks not long after they opened, and the tables and chairs that used to be in the windows had to be removed and display material was put there instead. It seemed a lot of fuss about nothing at the time, and it’s a shame if it stopped them using the downstairs — by comparison, Costa Coffee further up Tranquil Vale have a downstairs as well as ground level which are both well used, and they also have people sitting at the window.

  15. rgland@home.nl

    Whatever anyone may think about the BS , one thing is certain,
    they have struggled and fought for years and years to protect the Heath and the Village, and made sure that it did not deteriorate into a tatty rundown area ,as many other parts of London are.

  16. Ed

    Yes overall the village is much nicer due to the work of the BS

  17. Michelle O'Brien

    Bloodied but unbowed after losing its court battle against Lewisham Council’s initial go-ahead for the OnBlackheath pop festival, Blackheath Society has indicated it still hopes the event starting 2012 will be stopped.

    “The festival is not yet a done deal,” the Society says in its Autumn Newsletter released this month. “There are many hurdles for NIMBY still to overcome.” NIMBY Events Ltd. are the organisers of the planned event.

    “Although NIMBY now have their licence for a pop festival on two days in September in perpetuity for an area on the south-west of the Heath,” the Newsletter says, “they have yet to obtain permission from Lewisham Council for the use of that area.”

    NIMBY, the Newsletter says, will now have to complete a separate process of formal approval to use the site. This it said will involve satisfying the Council’s Safety Advisory Group that all the concerns raised at the Society’s appeal at Bromley Magistrates Court about law and order, noise, road closures, transport and safety can be fully addressed.

    “This is a separate process judged by much wider-ranging criteria than those applied to the alcohol and entertainment licence” (granted to NIMBY for the planned festival by the Council’s licensing sub-committee in October 2010), the Newsletter said.

    The Magistrates on July 22 threw out the Society’s bid to overturn the licensing sub-committee’s ruling following the country’s reported longest ever running appeal hearing under licensing procedure. Spread over a total of six days, the appeal hearing opened on March 3.

    “This was an extremely disappointing decision for the vast majority of our members and other local residents,” the Newsletter said.

    The Society bills itself as the “Guardians of the Heath.” It’s 13-member management committee, headed by chairman Howard Shields, went ahead with the appeal without consulting the Society’s rank-and-file membership – or anybody else in the area – but said Society members had indicated overwhelming support for the move.

    “We are grateful to everyone who has supported the Society’s endeavours to keep NIMBY away from the Heath,” the Newsletter said. “We include in that not only local residents, but also the nine local ward councillors from Lewisham and Greenwich who have actively supported the campaign.”

    The lost appeal cost the Society a total of £80,000 in court costs and legal fees. The Magistrates said the appeal was “properly brought” and as a result the Society should pay less than half the costs that NIMBY and Lewisham had claimed. But the Society’s barrister agreed in court that legally the appeal had been dismissed “in every aspect” by the Magistrates.

    The Newsletter reported: “We have had to find a total £80,000 … but we are fortunate in having reserves which, assisted by contributions from members, are available for funding the cost of proper challenges to the plans of those who wish to abuse the Heath, as NIMBY is seeking to do.”

    Another hurdle for NIMBY, according to the Newsletter, is the Blackheath Joint Working Party. This is an advisory group of local councillors and local amenity societies currently drawing up plans for future use of the Heath. The Blackheath Society is a leading member of the BJWP.

    The Newsletter said the BJWP last year voted unanimously to reject the pop festival plan after hearing presentations by Mr. Tom Wates and his two fellow NIMBY directors. The senior Lewisham executive officer assigned to rule on NIMBY’s use of the site “will be aware of the advice/veto of the BJWP,” the Newsletter said.

    The Heath is managed under a council contract by a company called Glendale, a division of Parkwood Holdings plc.

    Glendale has backed NIMBY’s OnBlackheath festival plans and the Society’s Newsletter commented: “… there is a very strong commercial incentive for Glendale, and obliquely for Lewisham, to encourage any activity on the Heath from which they can obtain some revenue. This is one of the many reasons why the Society is so concerned about the pop concert promoted by NIMBY, which we foresee could be the thin end of a very fat wedge.”

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